Friday, January 30, 2009

Geek Toy Friday - PHP

I know it really doesn't qualify as a "toy", but it's still a whole lot of fun. For those of you out there who aren't quite geeky enough to know what PHP is, it's the stuff behind what runs a good number of your favorite websites.

PHP is what is called a "server-side scripting language". It is what allows websites to interact with users in a dynamic manner. Without scripting, there would be no such thing as Facebook, MySpace, Google, Amazon, or really any other modern website.

So here's to PHP! And here are a few links to some sites where you can learn more about it, because quite frankly, there's more information out there than I can hope to cram into a blog entry...

How to Call the Helpdesk

Ok… I was going to try to be nice about this, but I think I’m just going to come right out and say it: People need a lesson on how to call the IT helpdesk, and this geek is going to be the one to teach that lesson. As a IT helpdesk worker, there are certain behaviors, certain bits of etiquette, that I feel people should learn before calling us for help.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that you’re in need. I understand that your problem is a crisis at that moment. However, I also understand that in order to help you most efficiently, I need to know certain things, and I need you to behave a certain way. So, in order to aide you in helping me help you, here are a few guidelines for you to follow when you give me, or people in my field, a ring for some assistance:

  1. Dispense with the niceties. I don’t care how you’re doing, what you’re doing, what you’re up to, how “it’s” going, or any other variation of the above. And neither, really, do you. I’m a geek. I only care about what your computer’s doing. And if you care more about what I’m doing than me getting right to fixing your computer, your problem is probably not that big and you’re wasting my time.
  2. Asking me questions right off the bat is a waste of both of our time. “Are we having network problems?” tells me nothing about what sort of problem you’re having, and considering you’re not the expert and I am, there is no conceivable reason why I would tell you if we’re having network, or any other type of, problems until I decide if that type of problem could be the root of your problem. So your best bet is to start right out with… well… your problem. Which leads us to #3…
  3. Don’t give me a crap description. “The system is really slow” is a crap description. “My computer is acting strange” is another crap description. “I get a server not found error when I try to get my email” is a GOOD description. It tells me what you were doing, what happened while you were doing it, and also informs me that there was an error message involved. Which leads me to #4…
  4. If there’s an error message on your screen, call me BEFORE you click anything to make it go away. Error messages exist for a reason. They allow IT professionals to quickly diagnose, and hopefully fix, problems with computer systems. They are not merely inconveniences on your path to destroying your computer. If you see an error message, stop what you’re doing (believe me, it’s a whole lot less inconvenient for you to be delayed for 30 minutes while I fix the problem than for you to lose your work altogether) and pick up your phone. You, and I, will be a lot happier that you did.
  5. Learn the language of computing. Your files aren’t stored in “memory”, they’re stored on a “hard drive.” You don’t “boot” programs, you “launch” them or “run” them. Just like doctors don't expect their patients to know how to diagnose and treat illnesses more complicated the the common cold or flu, IT professionals don't expect users to be able to fix complicated operating system or application conflict problems. However, just like a doctor, your local IT professional does expect you to know your head from your butt.
  6. Last, and definitely not least, we're busy, busy people. We're not your personal IT professional. We don't have time to hear about your computer at home and how you think you have a virus, or your how your entertainment system is on the fritz. Unless you're willing to shell out $100 per hour, I'm really not interested.
The above is not a comprehensive list, but just a start. I think you get the idea... treat us as you want to be treated. We're just as busy, just as stressed, and just as tired as you are. Remember that the next time you call.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

They Need to Cure...

...the common cold. I'm getting my butt kicked over here. Can't breath... Nose starts running suddenly... Throat hurts... Head hurts...

I mean, come on! So what if there are over 250 viruses that cause the common cold. Let's get this done, people!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's Always Somebody Else's Fault

And I'm sick of it. Have you noticed that? Nobody takes blame any more, to the point where, if you happen to run across someone who will, they almost seem heroic. They seem just a little more honest than everybody else.

And to think that this used to be something people just DID.

It stinks that honesty is now something special. It should be normal, but we're all so concerned about looking good, or at the very least not looking bad, that we focus more on ways to pass the blame than we do ways to fix the problem. It's become a race to see who is least wrong, not most skilled, hardest working, or most productive.

It is a sad state of affairs.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Time to Dump Some Junk

So I'm a packrat. Just ask my wife. I keep everything, especially if it is computer or technology-related. It's bad.

One of the things I promised myself, and my wife, when we got married is that I would mend my packrat-ish ways and jettison some of the junk that I've been moving from apartment to apartment for the past five years. And now I believe it is time to make good on that promise.

Wish me luck, because this is no small task. It's going to take a ton of sorting, a lot of hard decisions, and quite a bit of time to get this done. It needs to get done, though. And it's about time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Burger King Magic...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Geek Toy Fridays

What better way to spend a Friday than writing about the toys and gadgets that make us uber-geeks drool? It is in that spirit that I am proud to introduce "Geek Toy Fridays". Every Friday, I will post an article about some gadget that has caught my eye. From the practical to the bizaar, from the old to the new, I'll do my best to cover it on Fridays.

So let's get started with one from my personal collection.

This little object goes with me where ever I go, right along with my cell phone and Pocket PC. It's an entertainment powerhouse, holding a good subset of my music collection, along with news podcasts and pictures of my friends and family. And it is NOT an iPod.

It is a Zune.

Yes, that's right. A Zune. Bill Gate's creation, with the intent to unseat the iPod as the king of pocket media enjoyment. "So?" you ask. "Does it?" Well, let's take a look.

I personally own the 8GB model. Microsoft's recent release upped the sizes of the small and large Zunes to 16GB and 120GB, respectively. Beyond the size differences, however, all Zunes are pretty much the same, offer the same features, and pretty much run the same software. So let's take a closer look at mine, which will give you a pretty solid look at all of the Zune lineup.

The attached image, which is taken directly from, gives you a good idea of what the menu system looks like. All navigation is done using the center, touch sensitive pad. This pad can either be used by "clicking" its edges to move the selection and pressing its center to select, or by "gliding" your finger up, down, left, or right to move the selection and pressing its center to select. The "glide" motion can be a bit difficult to get used to at first, but once you do, it is by far the easiest way to navigate your music and video collection.

From the menu shown in the image, you can see the Zune is capable of playing music (AAC audio, Windows Media Audio, MP3) and video (MPEG-4, QuickTime, Windows Media Center DVR, Windows Media Video), and displaying JPEG images. It is also capable of tuning into a playing your favorite local radio stations with a built-in FM tuner, as well as playing back your favorite podcasts.

Where the Zune truly outdoes the iPod is in its ability to be social. The "social" and "marketplace" menu items allow you to connect to other Zune owners via wireless 802.11g networking. The "social" menu item lets you share music with other Zune owners within range of you, and the "marketplace" allows you to purchase new music from the Zune online market from any wireless network. The built-in networking also allows you to synch your Zune with its paired computer via a home wireless network.

As I said above, I don't leave the house without my Zune. Like so many iPod owners, I've found my Zune to be a very useful addition to my portable electronics arsenal. I think it measures up to the iPod by any measure, and would recommend one to anyone who is looking for a higher-end MP3 player.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Are You Ready for the Digital Switch?

We've been hearing about it for about a year and a half now. We've been told that we need to upgrade equipment. We've been given the date, February 17th, 2009. But what exactly is the switch to digital television going to mean for us regular folks?

First of all, if you've got cable or satellite television service, the switch to digital over-the-air signals isn't going to affect you in the least. You're already receiving your television in digital format. The change only affect those of us who are still using antenna to receive TV signals.

For those of you who still use a good ol' fashioned antenna, either on the roof of your home or attached directly to the top of your TV set, the following information is for you...

First of all, what the switch means is that the picture and sound you see and hear on your television will be transmitted as a digital, "computerized" signal. This should result in improved quality. This also means that, unless your television is equipped with a digital tuner (check your TV's manual to find out), you'll need to purchase a digital converter box from your local electronics store. This will enable your older television sets, or newer sets without a built-in digital tuner, to properly receive and display digital signals.

There are, of course, potential issues that need to be addressed for the transition to be successful. and the Associated Press (Joelle Tessler) give a pretty good outline of some of the problems that have and could still crop up during and after the transition. These are things that could have an impact on a great number of people, including loss of signal and misunderstanding of the technology.

We do all have to keep in mind that this is really a very good thing, however. Problems aside, the increase in available frequencies for emergency services and internet service providers will be extremely helpful to government and industry. We are doing a good thing, and with all upgrades, there are headaches that will need to be worked out. Hopefully, we can get through this change quickly, and reap the benefits for decades.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Merry Christmas, Once Again!

My wife and I travelled to her home town this weekend to celebrate Christmas with her extended family. It was a great time, as usual. Merry Christmas to all who are still celebrating!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Night In

Every once in a while, it's nice to just have a night at home. This was it for me.

My wife had a night out with friends planned, so I decided to do what every geek with some time on his hands would do: play World of Warcraft. It really is a very good game. It's well written, the content is exceptional, and the game play itself is very involved. Everything a true geek would look for in a computer game.

So laundry and World of Warcraft. Good times had by all.

Cyber-bullying Hits Home

My wife has a younger brother who is in his early teens. He's pretty much your typical high school kid: tall, lanky, into some sports, some video games, Mountain Dew, and pizza. He likes to hang out with his friends and have a good time. He's a little more intelligent than athletic, but puts his heart into everything he does, even if he's not the best at it. He's also pretty emotionally open for a guy his age. Add all of this up, and the sum equals exactly what a lot of bullies look for in a target.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the kid because, as a child and teenager, I was picked on as well. It is a rite of passage for a lot of kids. To be honest, I don't know that I would be the person I am today without having gotten a bit roughed up when I was younger. However, when I was my brother-in-law's age, we had the distinct advantage of being able to live the bullying in the hallways of the school. When we went home, we knew it would stop. Sure, maybe the bully would follow you home for a bit, but you knew that your house was your sanctuary. You knew when you stepped through that door, you didn't have to worry about it, at least until school the next day.

Unfortunately, those days are gone. And cell phones took them away.

My brother-in-law has been experiencing what is known as cyber-bullying. Bullying via text message. Some of his would-be friends have decided it would be funny to torment him using a device that he keeps with him at all times. And in doing so have taken away his sanctuary. Don't misunderstand, I'm angry with the kids who are doing this sort of thing, not with the technology. I'm also angry with parents who don't properly police their children's activities, and give them free reign to do, or say, whatever they want to whomever they want.

So parents, please watch over what your kids are doing. Kids, if you happen upon this entry and know someone who is being picked on in this manner, please tell someone. This sort of thing has to be stopped, because it's affecting people your age a lot more deeply than any "traditional" bullying ever did.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Energy Saving Ideas

In these rough economic times, everybody is trying to save a little cash here and there. Whether it's as small as skipping a night out or as large as skipping a vacation, we're all tightening our belts.

One place we can all do some cutting back, and feel good about ourselves in the process, is energy use. Most people don't think twice about how much energy thy use to heat and cool their home, or they think they are already doing all they can to be as efficient as possible. The fact is that we can all be doing more.

In the spirit of being green, and saving a little cash in the process, here are a few links to sites with energy saving tips and ideas.

On these sites, you'll find information on everything from how to set your thermostat to save money to the installation of solar panels. There's a lot of good information out there, and small changes can go along way. Good luck saving money and being a little more green!

The Alltel and Verizon Merger

This has been a long time in the making, and it looks like it's finally going to happen: Verizon will be buying Alltel.

In an article posted Monday, January 5th, CNET News reported that an FCC filing submitted by Verizon Wireless the previous week outlined Verizon's plan to "close its acquisition of regional carrier Alltel by Friday, January 9." This acquisition will make Verizon the largest wireless carrier in the United States, surpassing AT&T.

As an Alltel customer, I'm still not exactly sure what this is going to mean to me. I've been with Alltel for several years now, and really like their service. I've not heard a thing from either Alltel or Verizon, by phone, mail, or email, concerning what sort of change I'm going to see.

I don't normally do this, but I'm wondering... what's your opinion? If you happen across this post, and have feelings, good or bad, about the Verizon buyout of Alltel, please post them below. I'm wondering if I'm the only one who is a little uneasy about the future of my wireless service.

Countdown to the Laptop

If you've read my blog up to this point, you'll know that I am in the process of saving some money to get a new laptop computer. Right now, the Acer Aspire 8930 series is high on my list. It packs the most features for the money, plus has the largest screen I've ever seen on a laptop. It's stinkin' 18.4" big! And it's full HD, so watching movies on it will be an experience.

I've worked it out, and I should be able to pick up this monstrosity of a machine by mid-year this year. Of course, at that point they'll have something even better out. But we will reassess and see what's available then. For now, this is a very, very good goal.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Road to the Whitehouse

Anyone who knows me understands how big of a fan of President-elect Barack Obama I am. I supported him vocally, voted for him in both the Missouri primary and the general, and am extremely excited to see what he's capable of achieving once he takes office. I believe he will bring about change, just as he promised. Perhaps not the sweeping change that some feel is necessary, but definitely enough change so that people can feel like humanity has retaken government. is running a story that caught my attention. Obama has proposed a 775 billion dollar economic stimulus package. The difference between this package and others that have come before it is that this one would have a total ban on "...earmarks, the process by which individual members insert projects without review." Obama told reporters that his package will set a "new higher standard of accountability, transparency, and oversight." He said he will even make his stimulus package available on the internet, with "Google-like search function" for people to puruse by congressional district.

And here comes the change we've been hearing so much about. No pork-barrel projects injected into the stimulus package. Complete access by the American people to the meat of the definition of the package. These are things that no one would have dreamed of under any previous administration, Democrat or Republican. If this is the change we've been promised, I'm on board, because the beginning of sensibility and responsibility is accountability. This will finally be a government of the people again.

What Will They Think of Next?

According to, Apple computer rejected an iPhone application that "lets users jiggle a pair of breasts." The application, known as "iBoobs", displays a pair of, well, iBoobs on the iPhone and allows the user to "make them wobble from side to side, or up and down, depending on the movement." Wow... There's nothing technology can't achieve these days.

The creator, a company called Mystic Games, develops 3-D rendering engines for video-game makers. I guess we all now know just what exactly is on the minds of game developers all over the world.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Downside of Social Networking

I want to establish right off the bat that I am a social networking user. I have a Facebook account. I have a MySpace account. I'm a believer that the technology is fundimentally good. I just think there are some flaws, and those flaws coupled with the unwashed mass's stupidity about what to, and more so, what not to post, on their pages is a sure-fire formula for disaster.

Just ask President-elect Barack Obama. According to, both he and Britney Spears experienced what can happen when hackers come to play. Their Twitter accounts were compromised, which allowed hackers to post whatever they felt like on their accounts. Fortunately, the hack was caught relatively early, so no permanent damage was done.

But this story exposes how real the threat of being hacked is. Add to that the type of content that people, especially high school and college students, have decided to share with the world, and you've got a situation where the negative use of the technology might just outweigh the positive potential.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The New Geek

The definition of "geek", according to


1. a peculiar or otherwise dislikable person, esp. one who is perceived to be overly intellectual.
2. a computer expert or enthusiast (a term of pride as self-reference, but often considered offensive when used by outsiders.)
3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken.

1915- 20; prob. var. of geck (mainly Scots) fool < D or LG gek

As a self-identified geek, I think it's just about time that we redefine what it means to be a "geek". Being a child of the 1980's, my frame of reference starts around 1985, when I was in grade school. At this point, "nerd", "geek", and "dork" all pretty much had the same meaning: someone outside the accepted social framework. Perhaps because of dress, friendships, or level of intelligence, anyone labelled with one of these three words was automatically outcast from the rest of the group. Also during this time, the personal computer was starting to show up in classrooms, and in select cases, in homes across the United States. For those of us who were forunately enough to have one of these machines in our home (thanks Dad!), a whole world was opened up to us. And then for an even more select few of us who were more interested in how the thing worked than what games it could play (thanks again, Dad!), well, that was just like being handed the keys to the Geek-dom.

By the time high school rolled around, the internet, and more specifically, the world wide web, had made it's way into classroom across the school district. I attended a high school that was geared toward the use of technology in the classroom. At this high school I discovered something I had never expected: geekiness had it's own subculture. There were people there who were as interested in computers and technology as I was. People I could talk to... sort of. Unfortunately, I came to find that those creatures were not geeks, they were nerds. Devoid of any social graces whatsoever, there were doomed to roam the halls in their own little pack, not intermingling with the rest of the world. They were animals to be admired from afar. And they were impossible to talk to. Even for a geek like me, these guys spoke a different language. Sure, I could have tried harder to fit into their world. But I liked girls, and music, and plays, and movies. Movies other than the Matrix. These were not my people. I needed something more.

College, an oasis for geeks the world over, was where I formed my current, and probably most accurate definition of geek-hood. In college, you are allowed to be whatever you decide to be, which includes enjoying technology (toting a laptop to class even before colleges and universities started handing them to students with their dorm room key), using technology (using a Palm V as a reminder tool for papers and lectures), and still having a life, dating, and enjoying the company of other human beings. In college, you can join a fraternity and be the webmaster. What more can I say? College is where a geek can be a geek.

And pop culture is coming along for the ride. I look around, and I see young professionals in jeans and graphic tees, sporting a sport-coat over the top, House MD fashion. Suddenly everyone wants a pair of vintage Chuck Taylors, and nobody thinks twice about going to their local Lens Crafters and picking up a pair of black plastic rimmed glasses to improve their reading vision while typing away at their Dell / Gateway / Apple notebook computer. Or even better, while replying to emails on their Blackberry / iPhone / Compaq iPAQ.

And it's a beautiful sight.

So what is the modern definition of "geek"? I think it's a lot of things. It's anyone who is comfortable with technology, or at least learning. It's anyone who can be described as an expert in their field. It's everything positive about knowledge, without any of the traditional negative connotations. It's Steve Jobs, dressed up, touting the latest that Apple has to offer for personal music and communications. It's Barack Obama, who is said to carry a Blackberry at all times and be way into Star Trek, all while playing basketball. It's the experts of the world, who decided to be better at what they do than anyone else, without sacrificing their personalities.

An Update to a Previous Entry

A few weeks ago, I made an entry concerning a plan by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin Martin, to require any company planning on using a particular section of airwaves for a free, nationwide wireless network to filter the content carried on that network. According to Joelle Tessler of the Associated Press (via, Martin will be stepping down as chairman, and with him will most likely go his filtration proposal.

MSNBC and the Associated Press reports that Martin's tenure will end with the swearing-in of President Obama. He is, however, trying to push the rest of his plan through before he leaves office. Read the entire story here on

Thursday, January 1, 2009

To Ring in the New Year

I hope you have all had as excellent a first day of the year as I have. It's been wonderful. I haven't done anything. Nothing. At all. Well, I played a little World of Warcraft, and watched a little House from our DVR. I drank coffee. And you know that if I'm listing drinking coffee as an "activity", it was a very, very quiet day.

However, I didn't want to leave today feeling as if I didn't accomplish anything. And since it is rare that I have the opportunity to write an entry on a computer with a keyboard and full-sized monitor, I thought I ought to take the chance while I have it today.

Unfortunately, when it came down to it, I really didn't know what to write.

So in keeping with the spirit of the season, I thought I'd outline, for your reading pleasure, my resolutions for 2009.

First, I want to get in shape. Yes, I know, it's pretty much a stereotype, but I'm serious. I would like to lose around 10-15 pounds. Now, I'm not terribly out of shape, but I do have some work to do. The reason this might actually work out for me is that I like going to the gym. I know... who likes going to the gym? I'm a little strange.

Second, I want to waste less time. I'm not talking about time spend watching television or listening to music or anything like that. I don't think of those types of things as time wasters. The mind and body needs rest, and those sorts of things provide that. If television or music or any other mindless leisure activity prevents you from doing the things you need to do, that's another story. What I'm talking about are those times where I find myself doing nothing in favor of doing something that could be enriching my mind or furthering my career. Time poorly wasted one cannot get back.

Third, I want to see my friends and family more often. For my wife and I, that's a bit of a challenge. We live just close enough to our loved ones to be able to drive, but just far enough away that it's not worth the trouble for less than a weekend, and are just busy enough for it to be tough to schedule. It's a question of resolve, and for me, that's what this year will be all about.

So there it is: the big three for me this year. Wish me luck. Hopefully, this list can help me be a better, healthier, and more successful midwest geek.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone out there on the Internet! And if my redneck neighbors across the street are reading this, a word of caution and advice: fireworks and open flame don't mix. Yes, that includes bottle rockets.